Bullying is not a new concept. However, the internet and social media has given bullies another channel to intimidate and harass.
Cyberbullying is growing. It is a major concern to children, parents and guardians. But the cost doesn’t stop at the victim - it has long-term financial implications for our schools, workplaces, healthcare system and society.
According to the Productivity Commission bullying comes at a phenomenal cost: more than $A6 billion annually in Australia alone. Children who bully are more likely to grow up to be adults who exhibit antisocial behaviours like workplace bullying and harassment.
While a relatively new problem with few longitudinal studies, experts consider the effects of cyberbullying to be even greater than traditional bullying.
Alex Merton-McCann is Intel Security’s Cybermum in Australia. A blogger and subject expert, she says one of the biggest problems with cyberbullying is that it’s often visible to anybody online.
“Say, for example, it happens on your Facebook profile,” she says. “Followers from both sides can see what’s going on. Some experts believe it can be even more traumatic because it’s harder to escape.”
A study in the US by the HighMark Foundation found 30 per cent of children who are bullied go on to experience mental health issues over the long term, and 50 per cent of those access the healthcare system to deal with those issues.
Intel Security’s 2015 study (Teens, Tweens and Technology 2015) showed more than half of children active on social media witnessed cruel behaviour on social networks and 16 per cent claimed to have been the victim of cyberbullying.
In 2015, Kids Helpline received over 3000 referrals from cyber safety and bullying websites and, when combined with the frequency of visits by both parents and children to their Cyber Safety Tips and Info pages, concluded cyberbullying was a major concern.
“Every parent’s worst nightmare is to have their child cyberbullied,” Merton-McCann says. “It’s huge, because bullying, whether online or in person, is traumatic.”
In 2015, the Australian government established the Office of the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner at a cost of $A50 million.
Research shows children who fall victim to cyberbullies feel depressed, lonely or anxious, resulting in being disengaged, absent from classes or performing poorly on exams. Education organisations bear the fiscal brunt of cyberbullying in the extra resources they dedicate to combat these issues.
“Many assistant principals and deputy principals tell me they spend between 30 and 50 per cent of their time dealing with the fall out of apps like Kick, Snapchat and Instagram,” Merton-McCann says.
There are administration costs and resources in mediating or counselling cyberbullies and victims. Every cent and resource spent on combatting cyberbullying and its impact is money or resources could have been put elsewhere.
“The psychological implications are quite phenomenal,” Merton-McCann says. “Teenage years can be some of your most fragile times and to be on the receiving end of cyberbullying can be absolutely devastating.”
“Trauma and bad experiences can haunt you, even as an adult.”
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A study by the Australian Catholic University of 900 Victorian students showed students who perpetrated cyberbullying were more than twice as likely to steal and commit violent behaviour the following year.
The same study also tells us cyberbullies are more prone to depression, anxiety, aggression and delinquent behaviours in their years following cyberbullying.
“There’s a lot of research on victim-perpetrator mentality and quite often we see kids who have been bullied end up becoming the bully,” Merton-McCann says.
She’s right. The Australian Institute of Family studies (AIFS) reported the ‘bully victim’ (a bully who had been bullied themselves) is more likely to engage in illegal or problematic behaviours. The AIFS also linked bullying at school to a 50 per cent increased risk of later becoming a criminal offender.
It’s not a far stretch then to assume if left unaddressed, cyberbullies will end up as part of the same cycle, if they haven’t already, leaving a fiscal dent in our workplaces, courts and welfare assistance systems.
So, what can businesses and individuals do? It’s in all of our best interest, as taxpayers and decent human beings, to nip cyberbullying in the bud.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to instil empathy and online kindness into our children from a young age,” Merton-McCann says. “We teach sun safety and road safety from young age – instilling good cyber values will set our kids up with the right behaviours for when they become independent.”
For the emotional impacts on our children but, also, the impact on our classrooms, workplaces and society as a whole, it’s important we teach our children the right way to behave online, and monitor what they’re doing.
February 7 is Safer Internet Day, where you can use social media to #AskOutLoud any questions you might have about how to be safer online at work, school or home.
The industry community (Security, Influence and Trust) have put together a panel of experts from the Australian Government and regional industry leaders – including ANZ – to answer your questions.
Head over to Twitter to take part in the conversation.
Lorissa Paulk is a contributing editor at BlueNotes
The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.